(Reuters) - Noble Energy Inc (NBL.N) slashed the risks to its colossal Israeli natural gasproject by selling a stake to Australia’s largest oil producer and sealing a crucial supply deal with a Palestinian power company in one of the world’s political flash points.
Both steps, carefully choreographed over the past month, should help Noble achieve its goal of doubling production by 2018 and mitigate Wall Street’s fears about the company’s prospects in the politically unstable region.
In a deal worth $2.55 billion in cash and future revenue, Australia’s Woodside Petroleum (WPL.AX) agreed last week to help Houston-based Noble Energy and three Israeli companies develop the offshore natural gas field Leviathan. The field, along with smaller ones nearby, holds nearly 40 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, the same amount consumed each year in the United States.
The deal came a month after the Noble Energy consortium signed a $1.2 billion contract to begin supplying natural gas to the Palestine Power Generation Co. in a couple of years.
The group is already shipping gas to Israel from a small field near Leviathan, meaning Israel and the Palestinian Authority will both rely on the same source for natural gas.
Woodside’s experience in liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects will help regional exports begin sooner. Selling to a broad range of neighboring countries should reduce the project’s appeal as a target for attacks, security analysts say.
In a sign of how vital the natural gas is to Israel, its military patrols the seas above the deposits to defend against any potential attacks.
The company decided potential risks of developing the fields amid the geopolitical turmoil were acceptable considering the probable rewards, said a well-placed source who declined to be named, citing a policy of not speaking to the media.
“When you think of Middle East conflicts, Israel really is in the best place in terms of risk,” said the same source, who is close to the company’s board of directors.
Noble will remain the project’s operator after the Woodside deal closes later this year, holding 30 percent to Woodside’s 25 percent. The other three partners – Delek Group (DLEKG.TA), Avner Oil & Gas Exploration (AVNRp.TA), and Ratio Oil Exploration (RATIp.TA) – will each hold less than 17 percent.
For Noble, the enormous offshore project in foreign waters is one it must undertake, analysts and investors say, if it hopes to replenish declining reserves faster than fellow rivals such as independent energy producers Marathon Oil Corp (MRO.N), Anadarko Petroleum Corp (APC.N), and Apache Corp (APA.N).
Noble first began operating off Israel’s coast in 1998, but it was not until 2010 that Leviathan was discovered. The company recently said there could be large oil deposits near the formation as well.
The cost to produce natural gas in the Mediterranean is only slightly less than market prices in much of Europe right now, suggesting that Asia – where prices are double Middle Eastern production costs – could be an attractive export opportunity.
That global export potential helped lure Noble and its partners to Woodside in the first place, given the Australian company’s LNG expertise.
Indeed, Noble Energy Chief Executive Chuck Davidson flew to Perth last month to negotiate with Woodside, which agreed tentatively to the deal in late 2012, then cooled to the idea when it was unclear whether Israel would allow LNG exports.
Noble and its development partners fought aggressively for the right to export 40 percent of the natural gas in Leviathan and nearby fields, winning that right late last year in a decision from Israel’s supreme court.
“You knew that Israel would be pragmatic about negotiations with Noble Energy on this,” said Tim Rezvan, an energy analyst at Sterne Agee. “Leviathan is too important for the country as it works to produce more energy locally.”
Expectations are high on Wall Street, where Noble Energy’s shares have sagged in the past three months amid a dip in the price of crude oil and rising production costs. At current estimates, Leviathan is expected to begin operations in 2017.
“Assuming the project comes online, it’ll be a big part of the pie at Noble Energy,” said Rezvan.
To be sure, Noble is still investing aggressively in its United States onshore shale operations, planning to spend 70 percent of its $4.8 billion capital budget this year on projects in Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg Basin and the Pennsylvania Marcellus formation.
But it’s spending the remainder of that budget on deepwater projects in the Mediterranean and elsewhere, and hopes to use cash flow, not debt, to finance future Israeli expansion.
“The continued demand for our gas in both Israel and other regional areas combined with the potential for multiple LNG or FLNG solutions sets us up for some dramatic growth in this region over the next decade or longer,” David Stover, Noble Energy’s president, told investors early last week.
A rare snowstorm in Jerusalem in December sharply increased natural gas demand, giving investors a hint of the project’s longer-term potential. Many Israeli power plants had to temporarily switch from coal to natural gas to produce power.
That storm helped Noble Energy’s fourth-quarter sales volumes jump 16 percent.
“This whole region has a lot of potential due in part to the size of these energy reserves,” said Emre Tuncalp of Sidar Global Advisors, a geopolitical risk advisory firm that specializes in energy matters. “Given all the components that need to come together to develop this area, I think it’s moving forward pretty well.”
The deepest oil well drilled in Israel’s 65-year history may be the most important.
Houston’s Noble Energy Inc. (NBL) will probe 6,500 meters (4 miles) below the Mediterranean seabed later this year, targeting as much as 1.5 billion barrels of crude, equal to about 15 years of Israeli demand.
While explorers have found enough natural gas in the past five years to turn Israel into an exporter, a major oil discovery would break new ground. The Middle East’s third-largest economy spends about $10 billion a year importing 98 percent of the oil it uses. Domestic production would increase tax revenue, boost the country’s balance of payments and reduce vulnerability to supply disruptions.
“The economic impact on Israel would be far greater than that of natural gas,” David Wurmser, director of the Washington-based Delphi Global Analysis Group, said in a phone interview. “Finding the oil would mean big money for the Israeli companies and the government.”
The Jerusalem Post wrote in an article yesterday that an offshore transmission buoy would begin operating today, supplying liquefied natural gas to Israel. Israel’s offshore Tamar gas field won’t begin production until April, but the offshore buoy is capable of supplying 4 -5 million cubic meters per day until Tamar’s production comes online. The Israeli government estimates that this new supply channel of natural gas will save the their economy 500 million NIS ($135 million) in just the first few weeks of operation, and billions in the next few years. Energy transferred from the new natural gas supply will generate 3,000 to 4,000 megawatts per hour (30,000 – 40,000 homes). This new supply is a milestone in Israel’s 80/20 goal, to have 80% of the country’s electrical energy needs supplied by natural gas. When Israel’s recent natural gas discoveries come into production they will be capable of supplying 100% of their natural gas needs without imports and export natural gas to other markets.
Zion Oil & Gas announced yesterday in a newsletter to shareholders and friends that results from their second re-entry into the Elijah #3 well failed to give enough evidence of hydrocarbons to continue developing the well. Read more
Zion Oil & Gas began re-entry operations this week at their Elijah #3 well in Northern Israel. Israeli drilling company, Lapidoth, erected it’s drilling rig and prepared the site. Zion is scheduled to begin its vertical seismic profile operation in the well early next week after completing wireline logging.
Dallas, Texas and Caesarea, Israel – July 2, 2012 – Zion Oil & Gas, Inc. (NASDAQ GM: ZN) announced today that, on June 28, 2012, it signed an agreement with Lapidoth Israel Oil Prospectors Corp. Ltd (“Lapidoth”) regarding further exploratory work to be performed in Zion’s Asher-Menashe License area in northern Israel.
Under the terms of the workover agreement, in July 2012, Lapidoth will mobilize their Franks 750 drilling rig to Zion’s temporarily suspended Elijah #3 well. The planned work program includes re-entering the existing wellbore, partially drilling out the existing plug, acquiring electric log data via wireline, acquiring vertical seismic profile data, and possibly obtaining sidewall core samples.
Zion’s Chief Executive Officer, Richard Rinberg, said today, “The signing of the agreement with Lapidoth allows us to move forward with our exploration program in our Asher-Menashe License area. We look forward to acquiring vertical seismic profile data in this petroleum exploration area, as the additional seismic data should help us to evaluate the next steps we need to take with respect to our temporarily suspended Elijah #3 well and also to identify prospects within this license area.”
The primary purpose of the planned work is to obtain additional geologic and geophysical data and to better understand the hydrocarbon potential of a zone through which Zion drilled while drilling the Elijah #3 well in 2009/2010. The Elijah #3 well, originally planned to drill to below 17,000 feet to test both Triassic and Permian-aged geological formations, was temporarily suspended after encountering technical issues at a total depth of approximately 11,000 feet.
Zion’s President and Chief Operating Officer, Victor Carrillo, said today: “We hope to learn more about the observed oil and gas shows in a zone from approximately 8,000 to 9,000 feet that were correlated to other regional hydrocarbon shows. Zion has never sought an offset vertical seismic profile in Israel and we hope to obtain a better subsurface image of the zone near the wellbore to determine future oil prospects in this area.”
Zion Oil & Gas, a Delaware corporation, explores for oil and gas in Israel in areas located onshore between Haifa and Tel Aviv. It currently holds three petroleum exploration licenses: the Joseph License (on approximately 83,272 acres) and the Asher-Menashe License (on approximately 78,824 acres) between Netanya, in the south, and Haifa, in the north, and the Jordan Valley License (on approximately 55,845 acres), just south of the Sea of Galilee. The total license area amounts to approximately 218,000 acres
Russia’s Gazprom, the Russian natural gas monopoly, was back in Israel this week meeting with Delek Group executives to ‘examine possible cooperation’ in producing and delivering natural gas to Europe from Israel’s newly discovered massive gas fields in the Mediterranean.
According to a Globes Business report, “Gazprom’s aims are still unclear. The major concern in Israel’s gas exploration sector is that the Russian energy company wants to block possible gas exports to Europe. Even if Israel’s Leviathan is a relatively minor player in the European gas market compared with the Russian giant, the prices agreed upon and types of contracts signed by Israeli companies could create unwelcome precedents from Gazprom’s point of view.”
The report goes on to say that Gazprom is the world’s largest natural gas producer and, unlike other multi-national energy companies, has no concerns over Arab boycott threats.
For more than three years, OilinIsrael.net has been reporting on Gazprom’s attempts to participate in and plans to control the Mediterranean and European gas markets (see “Russia Tried to Buy in to Israel’s Gas Discovery”). Gazprom isn’t merely the world’s largest natural gas supplier, it is a company controlled by the Russian government. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, was Gazprom’s CEO before taking his current position as head of state.
The prophet Ezekiel wrote: “‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against you, Gog (Russia), chief prince of Meshek and Tubal. I will turn you around, put hooks in your jaws and bring you out with your whole army …’” (Ezekiel 38:3-4)
“On that day thoughts will come into your mind and you will devise an evil scheme. You will say, “I will invade a land of unwalled villages; I will attack a peaceful and unsuspecting people (Israel) —all of them living without walls and without gates and bars. I will plunder and loot and turn my hand against the resettled ruins and the people gathered from the nations, rich in livestock and goods, living at the center of the land.” (Ezekiel 38:10-12)
The Bible prophesies that, one day, God will ‘put a hook’ in Russia’s jaw to draw it down into Israel, where it will plan to ‘plunder and loot’ an ‘unsuspecting people’. Are Israel’s newly discovered natural gas fields and, eventually, it’s oil the ‘hook’ that draws Russia into Israel? That may be.
But if it’s so, Russia had better take warning in Ezekiel’s prophecy:
“This is what will happen in that day: When Gog (Russia) attacks the land of Israel, my hot anger will be aroused, declares the Sovereign LORD. In my zeal and fiery wrath I declare that at that time there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel. The fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the beasts of the field, every creature that moves along the ground, and all the people on the face of the earth will tremble at my presence. The mountains will be overturned, the cliffs will crumble and every wall will fall to the ground. I will summon a sword against Gog on all my mountains, declares the Sovereign LORD. Every man’s sword will be against his brother. I will execute judgment on him with plague and bloodshed; I will pour down torrents of rain, hailstones and burning sulfur on him and on his troops and on the many nations with him. And so I will show my greatness and my holiness, and I will make myself known in the sight of many nations. Then they will know that I am the LORD.’” (Ezekiel 38:18-23)
If there is an “evil scheme” brewing in the mind of Gog, I would advise Gazprom, and Russia’s President, Mr. Medvedev of the one lesson that continues to repeat itself throughout history: Don’t mess with Israel.
Zion Oil & Gas debuted it’s 2012 Corporate video, “The Joseph Project”, during last week’s National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Nashville, Tennessee. In the video Zion Founder John Brown reviews the company’s mission and vision for Israel. Zion CEO Richard Rinberg and COO Victor Carrillo share their thoughts on the recent and future exploration activities.
Zion Oil & Gas is dedicated to finding and producing oil and gas in Israel.
February 21, 2012, Nashville, TN
Zion President and COO, Victor Carrillo, during a press conference at the 2012 National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Nashville, announced yesterday that Zion plans to re-enter the Elijah 3 well in the Asher-Menashe Exploration territory. Carrillo stated that Zion Oil & Gas plans to re-enter the well bore late this Spring in order to evaluate the well’s production potential and to determine if the well should be completed.
Zion began drilling operations at the Elijah 3 well in October 2009. Their target depth was toward the Triassic geological formation, which was estimated below approximately 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). Zion reached a depth of 10,938 feet (3,334 meters) but temporarily suspended drilling operations in the well following unsuccessful efforts to retrieve a stuck pipe.
Carrillo also announced in yesterday’s press conference, that later this year, Zion plans to begin drilling its first well in the company’s Jordan Valley license.
Zion Oil & Gas hold the largest on-shore oil and gas exploration license area in Israel.
The discovery well was drilled to a depth of 19,225 feet in water depth of about 5,540 feet. Results from drilling, formation logs and initial evaluation work indicate an estimated gross resource range(1) of 5 to 8 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), with a gross mean of 7 Tcf. The Cyprus Block 12 field covers approximately 40 square miles and will require additional appraisal drilling prior to development.
Charles D. Davidson, Noble Energy’s Chairman and CEO, said, “We are excited to announce the discovery of significant natural gas resources inCyprus on Block 12. This is the fifth consecutive natural gas field discovery for Noble Energy and our partners in the greater Levant basin, with total gross mean resources for the five discoveries currently estimated to be over 33 Tcf. This latest discovery in Cyprus further highlights the quality and significance of this world-class basin.”
Noble Energy operates the well with a 70 percent working interest. Delek Drilling and Avner Oil Exploration will each have 15 percent, subject to final approval by the Government of Cyprus.